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Drawing on its accumulated knowledge and experience, OLAF helps the authorities responsible for managing EU funds – inside and outside the EU – to understand fraud types, trends, threats and risks, and to protect the EU's financial interests by preventing fraud of all kinds.
Commission Anti-Fraud Strategy
OLAF is the lead service for the Commission Anti-Fraud Strategy and, more generally, for the conception and development of a European anti-fraud policy. In addition, a board composed of the Secretary-General and the heads of other Commission services, supported by OLAF's Director-General, provide coordination, oversight, advice and strategic orientation regarding the fight against fraud on a Commission-wide level.
- adapt fraud prevention, detection and investigation techniques to future threats
- recover a higher proportion of funds affected by fraud
- help anti-fraud bodies at EU level cooperate more effectively.
- deepen our knowledge of fraud patterns and trends
- use tailor-made anti-fraud strategies for each policy area while ensuring consistency and efficiency through a strong central review system
- further enhance cooperation at the EU-level and with Member States and combine efforts more efficiently
- Commission Anti-Fraud Strategy: enhanced action to protect the EU budget
- Annex to the Strategy
- Staff working document: Action Plan
- Staff working document: Fraud Risk Assessment
- Press release on the 2019 Anti-Fraud Strategy
- 2011 Commission Anti-Fraud Strategy
- Press release on the 2011 Anti-Fraud Strategy
- FAQs about the 2011 Anti-Fraud Strategy
Policies to fight illicit tobacco trade
Tobacco smuggling causes heavy yearly losses to the budgets of Member States and the EU in evaded customs duties and taxes. Smuggled tobacco respects no rules and poses great risks to consumers and businesses. It undermines anti-smoking and public health campaigns and violates the strict rules that the EU and Member States have on manufacturing, distribution and sale. OLAF has an explicit mandate to fight cigarette smuggling as part of the EU efforts to curb this phenomenon.
- Public perception of illegal tobacco trade (results of Eurobarometer survey, published in July 2019)
- Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council and the European Economic and Social Committee - 2nd Action Plan to fight the illicit tobacco trade 2018-2022 - Annex
- Progress report on the implementation of the Commission Communication "Stepping up the fight against cigarette smuggling and other forms of illicit trade in tobacco products - a comprehensive EU strategy (Com (2013) 324 final of 6.6.2013)"
- Public perception of illicit tobacco trade (results of Eurobarometer survey, published in July 2016)
- 2013 Council Conclusions on stepping up the fight against cigarette smuggling and other forms of illicit trade in tobacco products in the EU
- 2013 Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament - Stepping up the fight against cigarette smuggling and other forms of illicit trade in tobacco products - A comprehensive EU Strategy
- Eastern border action plan on the Commission Anti-Fraud Strategy
Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products
The Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products entered into force on 25 September 2018, marking an important milestone in tackling the illicit tobacco trade at a global level. The Protocol now has 48 Parties, including the EU.
The EU played a key role during the negotiation of the Protocol under the auspices of the WHO and it remains committed to ensuring its success.
Following the entry into force of the Protocol the First Session of the Meeting of the Parties to the Protocol took place on 8 -10 October 2018 in Geneva. At the meeting the Parties:
- discussed how to prioritise the work to implement the Protocol
- agreed to establish working groups on cooperation and assistance, and on tracking and tracing the movement of tobacco products.
The second Meeting of the Parties will take place in 2020.
- EU calls on international partners to sign anti-smuggling UN treaty (press release)
- Statement by Vice-President Georgieva welcoming the Council decision to ratify WHO treaty against tobacco smuggling
- Statement by Vice-President Georgieva on green light from European Parliament for international treaty to fight tobacco smuggling
- Proposal for a Council Decision on the conclusion, on behalf of the EU, of the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products to the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, in so far as the provisions of the Protocol which fall under Title V of Part III of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU are concerned, 4 May 2015
- Proposal for a Council Decision on the conclusion, on behalf of the EU, of the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products to the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, in so far as the provisions of the Protocol which do not fall under Title V of Part III of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU are concerned, 4 May 2015
Legislating against fraud
A number of legislative proposals are currently being considered by EU institutions and national governments:
- Protecting EU financial interests through criminal law
Directive proposed by the Commission on 11 July 2012, aimed at establishing minimum penalties and common definitions for crimes against the EU budget in all EU countries.
- Freezing & confiscation of crime proceeds in the EU
Directive proposed by the Commission on 12 March 2012, aimed at facilitating it for Member States to confiscate and recover the profits derived from serious and organised crime.
- Policy paper – protecting EU financial interests through criminal law & administrative investigations adopted by the Commission on 26 May 2011.
Commission annual reports on the Protection of EU financial interests
2007 Commission’s policy on fraud prevention
Fraud strategies by policy area
Several Commission departments have cooperated in implementing a strategy to prevent fraud involving structural funding (since 2008) – considered an example of best practice. In addition, several Commission departments have adopted their own fraud-prevention strategies (e.g. departments dealing with information society & media, and research & innovation).
Methods and results
Gathering & sharing information
OLAF gathers data from its own operations and many other sources. These include:
- Commission audits
- Court of Auditors reports
- national partner authorities
- open sources, such as the internet, press articles and public registers
- commercial sources.
OLAF shares some of this information through the Irregularity Management System (IMS). The IMS contains details of fraud and irregularities in the use of funds managed by the Commission and the national authorities, e.g. in:
- agricultural policy funding
- structural and cohesion funds
- funds to help countries prepare for EU membership (pre-accession funds).
The IMS is open to all Commission departments on a need-to-know basis.
The main uses of the IMS are:
- analysis and reporting (e.g. the annex to the Commission’s annual fraud report)
- preparing for audits
- deciding whether to sign off the accounts for previous operational programmes.
OLAF communicates its findings to the EU institutions and bodies for follow-up.
Authorising officers can exclude unreliable applicants from EU funding or flag suspicions. They do this based on:
- the findings of OLAF investigations
- the audit findings of EU institutions and bodies
- reports on irregularities detected by Member State authorities and organisations (e.g. international organisations) that implement EU spending programmes.
Excluded or flagged applicants are listed in the Early Detection and Exclusion System (EDES). EDES replaced the previous Central Exclusion Database and Early Warning System from 1 January 2016 and has 2 main parts:
1. Early Detection
This part of EDES contains information on people, companies and organisations that could pose a fraud threat to the EU’s financial interests.
The exclusion branch of EDES contains details of people, companies and organisations who are banned from direct EU funding. This might be because they:
- are bankrupt
- have been found guilty of fraud, corruption or other serious crimes or of serious professional misconduct
- have seriously breached the terms of a previous EU contract.
Member States and entrusted entities apply their own rules when deciding what action to take if an entity is recorded as ‘excluded’ in EDES.
All authorising officers in EU institutions and bodies and their staff can access EDES on a need-to-know basis. Read access to the exclusion branch only is available to Member State authorities and entities that implement EU spending programmes.
Interface between EDES and IMS
There is an interface between EDES and IMS, so EDES users in EU institutions and bodies can consult IMS data when considering an application for EU funding.
IMS only covers ‘shared management’ activities (managed by the Commission together with the Member States). However, entities that take part (as beneficiaries or contractors) in shared management activities may also apply for contracts or grants managed directly by the Commission or other EU bodies. In such cases, if the applying entity is flagged in IMS, the IMS record can be used to decide which measures to take to protect EU financial interests.
OLAF carries out analysis to identify:
- threats to the EU’s finances and reputation
- vulnerabilities in its systems.
Then it makes recommendations to Commission departments and other bodies involved in implementing the EU budget.
OLAF issues recommendations on anti-fraud measures to Commission departments, EU bodies and institutions. Its recommendations are made:
- based on analysis,
- after an investigation, or
- in response to draft Commission legislative proposals.
If OLAF detects systemic problems, it alerts the Commission’s internal auditors.
Areas where OLAF has made recommendations include:
- conflicts of interest in recruitment
- research projects (inflated staffing costs, plagiarism, fraudulent use of company names to obtain grants)
- customs transit procedures
- reimbursement of removal costs of EU staff.
OLAF produces casebooks of anonymised cases. These highlight:
- fraud indicators (‘red flags’)
- techniques used by fraudsters
- certain work processes that are potentially vulnerable to fraud which may be used in some Commission departments, EU institutions and bodies.
Areas covered so far include:
- OLAF internal investigations (2017)
- external aid (2012)
- structural funds (2011)
- research projects (2010)
Casebooks are made available to interested Commission departments and, if relevant, to other institutions and bodies and Member State authorities.
OLAF organises training on fraud detection and prevention for Commission auditors (internal and external), and contributes to fraud awareness seminars for EU countries. It also provides basic training on analytical tools and training for financial officers and managers on risk indicators.
Research and studies
The report ‘Identifying and reducing corruption in public procurement in the EU’ was commissioned by OLAF at the request of the European Parliament. The research was carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ecorys between March 2012 and June 2013, with the support of the University of Utrecht and other experts. You can read the key findings in the ‘Abstract’ and in the ‘Executive Summary’.
The brochure Public Procurement: costs we pay for corruption contains information on the key findings of the study and simplified tables on the methodology used to estimate the costs of corruption and the sectors covered.
Commissioner Algirdas Šemeta also gave a speech at the public hearing in the European Parliament in 2013: Speech by Commissioner Algirdas Šemeta at the public hearing ‘Public Procurement: costs we pay for corruption’